Lex Barker

  1. Robert Mitchum, Out of the Past (UK: Build My Gallows High), 1947.   Author Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Holmes) admitted much of Gallows was lifted from The Maltese Falcon. So, naturally, he wanted Sam Spade to play Jeff Bailey. But Humphrey Bogart passed (after Pat O’Brien), and Bailey went on to John Garfield, Dick Powell and on loan from Paramount, the future Tarzan… Mitchum made it a classic.
  2. Victor Mature, Samson and Delilah, 1948.  
    Cinemperor Cecil B DeMIlle first planned the epic in 1935 for Henry Wilcoxon and Miriam Hopkins.   Next in line, producer David O Selznick envisaged Kirk Douglas and Marlene Dietrich… By ’48, CB got serious. So did James Mason – suggesting $250,000. (DeMille showed him  the door). He toyed with Roberts Mitchum, Ryan  and Taylor; ruled out  Lex Barker (he became a five-time Tarzan) and Burt Lancaster –  too inexperienced, a bad back and  “bad” politics. Other also-rans went from longtime CB acolyte Henry Brandon, John Bromfield, Rory Calhoun, Jim Davis (future father of JR in Dallas),  Errol Flynn, William Hopper (Hedda’s son!), John Ireland, Glen Langan, Willard Parker… to the youngest new evangelist in town, Dr Billy Graham! Then, CB was telling 22-year-old Steve Reeves, to tone down his muscularity – while packing Matere  off to the gym to beef his up!  Here’s a review by Groucho Marx: No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s bust is larger than the leading lady’s!”

  3. MacDonald Carey, Malaga (US: Fire Over Africa), 1953.    Arlene Dahl tells (almost) all. “First choices were Lex and I. But I was making another film at Paramount… and Lex had another film that he was doing with Sol Lesser. [Apparently she could not bring herself to say… Tarzan !] They didn’t want to wait for us.” Not to mention that they had divorced in 1952. Errol Flynn and Indian actress Nimmi had been first been suggested for Van and Joanna. The final couple, Carey and Maureen O’Hara, were previously teamed in Comanche Territory, 1949.
  4. Steve Reeves, Le fatiche di Ercole (US: Hercules), 1957.   Four years searlier, LA producer Edward Small had to give up his hurculean plans – with the 1948-1951 Tarzan. Rome producer Federico Teti picked up the pieces and an MGM pal tipped off former exhibitor Joseph E Levine about it. He saw it in Rome. And snapped “one of the worst pictures I ever saw” forf $120,000. “It had great appeal. There was a market for anything then.” Particularly the way Levine sold it on TV – and with unhseard of full-page ads in UK papers – and collected $1m in the opening ten days. Levine backed the sequel, Hercules Unchained, and used his riches well – making, for example, The Graduate.
  5. Stephen Boyd, Venere Imperiale/Imperial Venus, France-Italy, 1962.     Although planned for her since 1958, Gina Lollobrigida took exception  to “parochial casting” – ie no Americans! And no script in English! Yanks hardly suited the life and times of Napoleon’s sister Pauline Borghese. Barker, the one American on board,  quit and sued La Lollo for saying how she had to restrain the Rome media from calling it … Imperial Tarzan.
  6. Frederick Stafford, Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117 (US: OSS 117: Mission For A Killer), France-Italy, 1965.  Kerwin Matthews had become too expensive for French pockets after two OSS 117 films about Jean Bruce’s secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath. Réalisateur André Hunebelle (surprisingly aged, at 68, for modern spy romps) looked over other Americans moonlighting in Europe – Barker, Ken Clark, Richard Harrison, George Nader – and chose the wooden Frederick Stafford when Ray Danton was a better actor and Sean Flynn better looking. Certainly, the Czech-born Stafford was the only OSS 117 to work for Hitchcock – proving just as wooden in Topaze, 1969. And to think, Hitch once thought John Gavin wooden in Psycho.

 Birth year: 1919Death year: 1973Other name: Casting Calls:  7